Colombo: An angry Sri Lankan government blasted Amnesty International on Tuesday for using the Cricket World Cup to target alleged human rights abuses during the conflict with the LTTE.
Amnesty has campaigned at the World Cup, currently being played in the Caribbean, to urge all parties in Sri Lanka's decades-long conflict to respect human rights under the slogan "play by the rules."
But the effort has angered the Sri Lankan government, which said the cricket team is made up of all ethnic groups on the divided island.
"This is not cricket," said Lucian Rajakarunanayake, director of the Sri Lankan president's Media Division, repeating the saying that equates the genteel game with fair play.
"Amnesty International should know that the Sri Lankan team is representing the entire country at a strictly sports arena, and it should not try to mix politics with sports," Rajakarunanayake said.
London-based Amnesty said it saw no problem in using the World Cup to educate people about human rights.
"Just as all cricket teams need an independent umpire to make objective decisions, so too does Sri Lanka need independent human rights monitors to ensure the Sri Lankan government, Tamil Tigers and other armed groups respect the rules and protect civilians caught up in the conflict," said Tim Parritt, Amnesty's deputy Asia Pacific director.
"Currently all parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka are breaking international law by killing civilians, destroying homes and schools, or forcibly disappearing people. The situation has got far worse over the last year, and we decided it was time to take action," Parritt said in a statement.
Sports have proved an effective tool in the past for pressuring politicians, most notably in apartheid-era South Africa, which was banned from most international sporting events because of its racial policies.
Military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe denied that Sri Lankan troops have violated human rights.
Rajakarunanayake questioned whether Amnesty would launch a similar campaign against other nations.
"One would like to ask Amnesty International whether it plans to take up the issue of human rights violations by the US government in Iraq or in Guantanamo Bay at the Super Bowl match or the National Basketball League championship," Rajakarunanayake said.
"One expects international human rights organisations to respect the spirit of cricket and not intrude the game of cricket with such slurs."